Tendai Khumalo’s favourite quote is “Yes, We Can” made famous by US President, Barrack Obama and, after meeting Tendai, you would be forgiven for thinking that President Obama may have stolen the quote from him!
His optimistic outlook on life extends far beyond any words that he is saying – it it exudes from every pore of his being. He gets you so fired up that you just want to hop on a bike and cycle to Durban with him, despite that fact that you are severely unfit and have not ridden a bicycle since you were a girl-guide on camp... many years ago.
Tendai is the founder and nurturer of Wheels4Life, a philanthropic initiative that not only increases awareness and educates but also raises much needed funds with which to purchase wheelchairs for people with disabilities.
In 2008 he and his team cycled – Tendai hand cycles - from J’burg to Durban in just seven days (raising money to buy wheelchairs for five children from Hope School, which caters for children with disabilities.
“A friend offered to buy wheelchairs for the children, but it is not about thewheelchairs. It is about the children. I want to show them that they CAN achieve, that they CAN do anything they want. I have a nice house and car and great job, all of which I achieved while I was a paraplegic – not before. If I can, then so can they.”
“I once drove 1,200km to
Zimbabwe on my own with my wheelchair in my boot!
What if I had a puncture half way in Zim with my chair in the boot?
What if I needed to use the bathroom? Well, guess what?
The people out there are good and will lend a hand without even being
I believe in humankind...
Every human being needs a strong and firm foundation; for the kids with disabilities it is also of the utmost importance to have a strong support structure - and a good wheelchair, individually made for the user, forms part of that structure.
“It is the tool of the trade. It is critical to have a wheelchair. Some of the kidsat the school have more of a soapbox than a wheelchair. That does not help build your confidence. Having a good wheelchair does.”
He enjoys working with the children saying they have fewer monkeys on their backs than adults so are therefore easier to motivate and inspire.”
Seven years ago Tendai went into hospital for a biopsy when doctors suspected a tumour on his spine. A blood clot formed and, as a result, he became a paraplegic.
Before his life changing operation he had been a keen sportsman, and played rugby. Then, in 2005, his ex-wife took part in the 94.7 Cycle Challenge on her own, but she hurt herself and ended up in hospital.“I went to visit her and promised her that next time I would do the event with her.”
That was three years after he became a paraplegic, but it proved to be a brand new beginning of a brand new life and since then Tendai has completed the 94.7 three times. But, nowadays, the event is more of a practice run for his serious cycling - to raise funds with Wheels4Life.“The team cycled to Sun City on Friday and I was so disappointed thatI could not cycle with them. But I did drive down to encourage them and we raised R84 000.00.”Tendai is recovering from a pressure sore so he could not cycle, but he is ready and planning for another cycle trip to Durban. “I am in my element when we are cycling, especially when I know it is for a good cause. It gives me joy.”
“I am trying to speed up my recovery by using a drain,” he says pointing to an oval shaped instrument on his lap. “It is draining the fluid from the sore and it beeps when I am not sitting or lying correctly.”
Surely using the drain gets irritating, with all that beeping? “I pretend the beep is disco music. People see the instrument and run in the other direction,” he laughs, “but I don’t care. I want to get better quickly. It is mind over matter!”
He explains that he had two choices, he could have gone to hospital or he could have stayed at home feeling sorry for himself.
“But that is not how it works. It is mind over matter. It is easy to say ‘why me! Poor me!’ But then, compare that to thinking: ‘Why not me?’ Who would you chose in your place? No-one, I am sure.’
“So why invest in ‘why me’, when you can create a different picture to your current reality. A stronger one. You can make this real in your head and then go get it. I do that. I looked at what I required and then created the picture and got it.”
He returns to the importance of a strong support structure and how essential it is to this.
“Whether friends or family, work or personal, look for what you require to make you stronger and independent.”These are not just words. Tendai walks his talk. He lives with his four year old son, who he takes care of alone.
“I have no domestic assistance. I bath my son – who is the World’s best wonder for me – read him stories at night. Everything a parent would do for their child I do for my son.”His dream is for people with disabilities to live their lives as they wish.
“Why must people with disabilities always work in a call centre? No! There is much more they can accomplish. It is their brain that works. Their wheelchair is just a means; much like glasses as a means for people with vision difficulties. So why should people with disabilities be perceived differently?”
Tendai says it is all about changing perceptions and uses the example of his gym. “I train in a gym three to four times a week, at the same time every day, so I see the same people when I am there. In the beginning they stared at me. I was there training alone with no assistance. Now they don’t even glance at me. They are so used to seeing me there, I am just another person working at the gym. Now, imagine if this happened in every gym all over the country. People’s perceptions would change.”
“With Wheels4Life I practice this. Every time we do a race there are different cyclists with me. Of the 12 cyclists that cycled with me to Durban, only three cycled to Sun City. All the other cyclists were new. And so the net of awareness on disability is widened every time another cyclist joins.”And Tendai is adamant, “Wheels4Life is not just about raising funds for wheelchairs, it is about raising awareness and changing perceptions.”
"It is not just about giving a wheelchair but about going to gym.”“It is about the person with the disability going to the gym and the people at the gym not thinking about it.”
“It is about raising awareness and being treated the same as everyone else.”
His goal for his next cycle to Durban is to accomplish it in five days and, with such, enthusiasm I believe he will. The problem is, will I be fit enough, soon enough, to become a part of Tendai’s next “We can.”